On the surface, it’s all bad. The Mariners were relatively unwatchable in May. This month, they’ve played better however they just won back to back games for the first time in over a month.
The Mariners have been taking their knocks, as have the fans. But not all is as it appears. While 2019 is a lost season, there is plenty to be excited for, both in the present and for the future.
At the Major League Level, a few players have proven their worth as either building blocks or trade pieces. Domingo Santana has been one of the M’s most consistent hitters and at just 26 years old, he could find himself with the Mariners for the long haul. His power to all fields makes him a valuable asset for a team looking for a middle of the order bat.
Daniel Vogelbach (really, you thought I would write an article without mentioning Vogey?) has finally gotten the opportunity he deserved and he has run with it. He is among the League Leaders in WRC+ as well as walks. He has been the rare combination of both power and on-base skills that should easily anchor the Mariners DH role for years to come.
Look, we all know what’s going on in the Majors. Its what’s happening down on the farm that is the most encouraging for the future of the Mariners and their “retooling”. They have six prospects in MLB.coms midseason rerank of the top 100 prospects in baseball including Jared Kelenic, Justin Dunn and Justus Sheffield.
Kelenic has thus far been the most accomplished of the bunch. He is slashing .309/.390/.582 with 13 home runs and 10 stolen bases between West Virginia and Modesto. At just 19 years old, Kelenic figures to finish the season in Modesto and then moved up next season. If he continues to perform at such a high level, there is a possibility that we see Kelenic in the majors in the latter parts of the 2020 season.
Justin Dunn has pitched to a 3.46 over 64 innings while racking up 81 Strikeouts. His 11.2 K/9 mark is the highest of his young career and at 23 years old, it’s plausible that we see Dunn finish the year in Tacoma. If all goes according to plan, Dunn could compete for a rotation spot next year.
Justus Sheffield has been one of the only disappointments of the crop of young talent the Mariners received last offseason. After a great spring, Sheffield pitched to a 6.87 ERA with 41 Walks in 55 innings in Tacoma which earned him a demotion down to Arkansas. There, he will pitch at age 23 similar to Justin Dunn and hopefully regain some confidence.
Jake Fraley is another player that has outperformed expectations. Acquired in the Mike Zunino trade, Fraley has hit .318/.386/.539 with 11 home runs and 16 stolen bases. He was just recently promoted to AAA Tacoma and it is entirely possible that we see him in a Mariners uniform by the end of the year.
We could go on and on about prospects having good years. Julio Rodriguez was progressing nicely before an injury sidelined him for the better part if two months. Kyle Lewis is finally healthy. Logan Gilbert has been arguably the best pitcher in the organization. Evan White has been on an absolute tear the last month+.
A new crop of young prospects has also entered the organization via the draft. George Kirby leads the charge out of Elon. The Mariners added a plethora of pitching to the likes of Dunn, Sheffield, Gilbert and the like with hopes that a few of them stick as big league contributors.
There Is so much to look forward to with this new young crop of Mariners farmhands. The Mariners have done exactly what they needed to for this rebuild, albeit some returns within trades have been lackluster. In a recent Wheelhouse podcast, GM Jerry Dipoto mentioned that they have now created “waves” of prospects that will join the big club over the years.
Starting with the veterans this year, guys such as Dee Gordon, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jay Bruce helped mentor the next wave. While not part of the long term plan, they made up the first wave. The next wave, the guys who are going to be the veterans during the rebuild, is made up of Mitch Haniger, Marco Gonzales, Omar Narvaez, and Daniel Vogelbach. JP Crawford could also fall into this category, however, I would put him more as the first member of the third wave of prospects.
So fast forward roughly a year and we should start seeing Sheffield, Dunn, and Fraley making the roster along with Shed Long. They will be mentored by Wave 2 (Haniger, Vogelbach, etc). Obviously, not all prospects are linear so we could see parts of Wave 3 mixing with both Wave 2 and 4. Both Kyle Lewis and Evan White could fall within either Wave 3 or 4. Jared Kelenic, Logan Gilbert and Julio Rodriguez should then make up the next wave and so on.
Dipoto stated that he wanted to the Mariners to be a consistent contender for years to come and this is the best way to do it. Building a team throughout the entire system instead of solely focusing on the major league product is how good teams become great.
For the first time in more than a decade, and maybe ever, the Mariners actually have a plan that extends beyond this year. It’s refreshing to see and it seems to be working.
It’s not obvious to the casual fan. They only look at the record and immediately dismiss this team as “the same old Mariners” but they couldn’t be more wrong. Dipoto has put together a plan and fans can finally be excited about the future instead of it just questioning the plan.
The “retooling” is working. It may not be clear right away but once you dig a little deeper, the Seattle Mariners are going to be a fun team in the not so distant future.